While the Arvada, Colorado Police Department continues its investigation into the tragedy that left three people dead, there is preliminary information that a lone gunman (who left a note threatening Arvada police officers) ambushed a police officer and fatally wounded him. A bystander engaged the gunman with gunfire and killed the gunman. This Good Samaritan was then killed by responding police officers. There will certainly be more information to come from the investigation and some of the facts might change, but this is enough to discuss in the abstract.
There is an old analogy among police officers that divides society into three categories: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The sheep are most of society, kind and gentle and averse to violence. The wolves are the criminals among us and will prey savagely on the sheep. The sheepdogs are the guardians of the flock. While the sheep are somewhat suspicious of the sheepdog because of his ability to embrace violence like the wolf, they will all hide behind the sheepdog when the wolves come and he turns to face them down. The thin blue line is based on this same concept, that a thin blue line stands between order and chaos.
I first heard the story of the sheepdog at a conference where Col. Dave Grossman gave a presentation. It was inspiring, and it tapped into the common core values of police officers everywhere as servants, protectors, and guardians. The story is a bit longer, and masterfully told by Grossman, but there is another line where he says that the sheepdog “yearns for righteous battle with the wolf, but would never turn his teeth on the flock.” This week we got a devastating reminder that not all of the sheepdogs wear a badge.
The decision to carry a weapon, concealed or openly, is a very personal one and individual reasons are boundless. Most trainers, if they are teaching from a pure safety standpoint, would tell a person who chooses to carry a firearm that is should be used for personal protection only as a last resort, when there is no other way to save themselves or their families, and to avoid confrontations if at all possible. It is good advice most of the time, from a safety perspective.
But freedom isn’t always safe. The land of the free is the home of the brave because it takes courage to be free. Sometimes safety takes a back seat to doing the right thing. Police officers sign up for that risk when they swear an oath, but there are those among us that rise to the occasion in a specific moment and do the right thing for their fellow citizens at great risk—and sometimes at horrible cost to themselves.
I cannot imagine the loss that Good Samaritan John Hurley’s family feels right now, but I hope it is of some small comfort that they know he died a hero, likely confirming everything they thought about him in life. I also cannot imagine the anguish of the Arvada Police Department right now. They lost one of their own, a brother dedicated to helping society, and then possibly killed the man who tried to help him and others—by accident.
My own law enforcement career was in Illinois, where the lawful carry of a concealed firearm wasn’t allowed until 2013. In fact, Illinois was the very last state in country to permit it. I always wondered why it took so long, and as a police officer in a very pro-law enforcement community, I recognized the value of citizens who would likely help me if I ever really needed it. That those citizens could be armed would have certainly raised the value of their assistance to me. But more importantly than that (I already had a bunch of brothers and sisters sworn to help, after all) was the hope that if something on the scale of an active shooter happened in our mall or movie theaters, maybe there would be a John Hurley among them who would protect them until we could arrive.
The deaths of Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley and John Hurley are devastating and tragic, but each can be looked to as a model for a free and civil society. Both knew their actions would bring great personal risk, one by choice of profession and the other by a choice made in the moment. Yet they performed those actions anyway. We should all pray that the tragic manner of both of their deaths will not deter others from following either of their heroic paths in life.